Tag Archives: education

Education policy and funding in the federal system

I’ve read a couple of articles this week about proposals to introduce a Victorian Baccalaureate and an Australian Baccalaureate, as an alternative to the exam-focused VCE Certificate and interstate equivalents. In Victoria, and I believe in most other states, the International Baccalaureate is already offered, though usually only by the top, most exclusive private schools (of course in metro areas). There was also an opinion piece by Brian Caldwell in support of the Victorian proposal. These baccalaureates would be more focused on longer, thesis assessments and include an element of public service.

Caldwell highlighted the history of Victoria’s innovation in education, comparative to the rest of Australia particularly, citing Kennett in particular. He also focused on what I found most striking about The Age article I referred to earlier – that Martin Dixon, Victorian Education Minister, said the Victorian Government would not wait around for the Australian Government to enact reforms. Anyone who follows education reform would know how slowly the Australian Government moves on such matters. The current model of federalism in Australia leaves a lot of responsibility with state governments to run the educations systems – I believe this is good. This has led to innovation and differentiation between states and has allowed localised solutions to be found for local problems. However, the funding still comes from the Australian Government, and the cumbersome bureaucracy this brings leads to stifling innovation and a very slow, reactive approach. I am sure that this two-tiered system of double bureaucracy for the one system also leads to a lot of education funding actually being bureaucrat salary – particularly at the Commonwealth level which doesn’t provide direct education services itself.

I’m not advocating, as many current Republican presidential nominees would, to completely abolish the Commonwealth Education Department, however it’s clear from the history of education provision in Australia that the real innovation and reform of service delivery comes from the states. Victoria has the most efficient primary and secondary education systems, and (I can’t remember this reference as I read it a few years ago) studies have shown that it’s the empowerment of local schools to decide how their funding is spent which has driven this efficiency and good outcomes, comparative to other states in Australia. A Commonwealth bureaucracy telling states how to spend their money, instituting national curricula and creating uniform national systems flies in the face of such evidence for localising the system and allowing local experts to make decisions which suit the local community best.


7 billion

This post over at Feminist Philosophers is succinct but brilliant. It captures the feeling of hope which I think has been completely lost in all the doomsday articles on over-population and armageddon type scenarios about the end of the world as we know it now that we are 7 billion, and not 6-billion-and-something.

Yes, if all 7 billion consumed the resources that I do right now, it really would be the end of the world, and quick. But they don’t, and hopefully we will all find ways to meet the challenges that this population will bring with it.

Interestingly, addressing climate change is inherently linked with empowering women and girls. As this blog explains, a recent paper has found the most cost effective ways of spending climate change intervention dollars is via educating girls and increasing access to family planning. Through these outcomes I would also hope that maternal mortality and morbidity would decrease.

I too hope that this generation of girls has a brighter future than what we are currently able to see, particularly those who are born into the developing world.

Economics and Feminism: an existential crisis?

Recently, through my pondering of my future directions and the impending grown-up-ness of turning a milestone age next year, I’ve been considering studying some form of economics as a postgrad. Economics? 18 year old me would be having a fit about now. Where did the social-progressive, pro-welfare safety net, social justice crusader go, and where the hell did this lady come from? 20-something me has realised that they are not mutually exclusive, and perhaps my social justice crusading could be best advanced by the ‘credibility’ and analysis that some economic knowledge would provide. Reading books such as Economics 2.0 and engaging with Game Theory and new ways of economic modelling which move beyond ‘Rational Economic Man‘ have of course helped my fondness for and understanding of economics as a powerful tool.

More than that though, is the realisation recently that half of what I am passionate about and half of what I spend my time thinking about is economic policy, or social policy which is fundamentally impacted on or achieved by economics. So much social justice can be understood in economic terms. Further, making strong economic arguments in favour of socially progressive policy seems to be the best and most effective way to show the social conservatives that social justice is good for their economic bottom line. Policies such as paid parental leave, including more women in business and on boards, ending discrimination on the basis of gender, sexuality, ethnicity, ability and many other factors, supporting diversity through encouraging free movement of labour are all things which have been variously shown to have positive impacts on economic bottom lines, depending on execution.

More than this though, economics is a field which is still, from the outside at least, dominated by the status quo – middle aged white males. Diversifying the voices within fields like this means that we can challenge traditional assumptions. Until very recently, traditional notions, such as Rational Economic Man had gone almost unchallenged in economics. Modelling all economic assumptions from the understanding that humans are dispassionately rational can create all kinds of flawed market based systems. Events as big as the GFC, or as small as shopping at a supermarket can show that humans are rarely engaged with the economy in a purely rational fashion, and that there are complex emotional investment and impulsive risky decision-making process which have little if anything to do with calm rationalism. Of course, this assumes a dichotomy between the rational and the emotional, which is also something I have previously written about (unpublished, should fix that!) The short story is that the reason/emotion dichotomy is used to oppress in all kinds of ways (see for example Prokhovnik)

Development economics and the inclusion of women in development agendas has taught us much about global economic systems, even for supposedly developed countries. If focusing our energy and attention on including and empowering women in poor countries is so overwhelmingly successful, then one would think that engaging women globally in financial empowerment will have far-reaching impacts for good. Social enterprises (SE) like Girl Effect have focused such approaches on girls in the developing world (seriously, check out the website, I dare you to find someone who doesn’t cry while they do!) while a relatively new SE in Australia, 10thousandgirl is aiming to empower women locally to take control of their finances so the next generation of both retired women, as well as working women, grow older with financial stability and security, whether or not they are partnered.

Hopefully movements such as these which encourage education and financial independence can be inclusive of the GLBTIQ communities locally and globally, as women without men for financial partners often suffer when society is built around the male breadwinner and the female homemaker. As much as our world is changing and moving away from this model, we know that pay equality is still a long way off, even in OECD countries like Australia. Of course, these figures are worse in the developing world. Australia is celebrating after a victory for the female dominated community welfare sector workers won an equal pay claim at the Fair Work Commission last week, however since then the celebration has degenerated into a fight about who will pay and how such fairness will be paid for.

Equal pay has long been the fight of feminism. After much scepticism about ruining a poignant moment in history, I watched the film Made in Dagenham with amazement last year as the Ford women joined and led a movement for equal pay for equal work. It was such a strong reminder that this was a radical notion not very long ago. When you think about how long and hard women across more than 3 generations have worked for it, the fact that the notion of equal pay is still met with cries of economic armageddon is quite outrageous. It’s taken for granted in many developed countries. I grew up with the knowledge that that fight had been “won”. Studying social work at university and realising the salaries of those in the community sector fixed that egalitarian view of society pretty quickly of course. But it’s also an example of why we need women in all areas of work, and thought. And not only women, but people of all kinds of diverse backgrounds so that discrimination and bias against many minority groups can be challenged, and assumptions which may be more true for one group of people can be called out as not very true for many other groups of people.

This extends to more than just equal pay of course, though this is the most glaring example of economics and feminist inter-relation. Economics is one powerful school of thought which is used time and time again to justify the status quo, and to reinforce and defend kyriarchical systems and structures within society. Perhaps one of the most effective ways to challenge this uncritical application of bad assumptions is to have champions within the economic schools of thought in order to call research and argument out when such assumptions are used.

Antipodes and Diversity

For a while now, I’ve been quite frustrated at the lack of value this country places on thought. This manifests itself in a number of very broad ways – it can be seen generally across our education system, particularly in secondary and tertiary systems, as well as the way we don’t value teachers, academics, writers and others whose realm is ideas, thought and concepts. So far the lucky-ness of this country has been transported from the sheep’s back to the mining boom, but where to from there?

Gillard’s education revolution, begun when I could still believe she believed in anything, could have been the beginning of a change in these values, but sadly I’m yet to see a single revolutionary anything as a result of the ‘reforms’. At the moment from what I can see, our education system from start to post-grad study finish values only mediocrity and ‘yeah, that’ll do’, much more than teaching real thought and challenging established ideas with new ones. There are much more eloquent people writing great things about how our education system can be improved, but the point I’m trying to make here is about value and how we convey value, particularly to those who are in the process of learning.

This of course has a huge impact on Australia’s culture – this can be explored through the complete lack of ideas jobs in Australia. If I want to work as an advocate, a researcher, a writer or a policy developer in the social sciences broadly, then I’m either going to work for/in government, perhaps for one of a handful of think-tanks or NGOs, or in a University. As far as I’ve been able to find, all the rest is done for love, not money. Which is fine, if you want a small number of people who are paid to think, and to foster an elite who are most likely not going to represent the diversity of people in Australia. This leads to stagnation of ideas, replication of the same kinds of research, and policy that is at risk of being developed in the absence of good evidence.

The broader ramification for this situation is that there are a whole lot of people who could make a fantastic contribution to the ideas and innovation economy in this country who are just blogging, article writing zombies in their free time because their ideas aren’t valued by everyone else enough to be in paid employment for them. This burning the candle at both ends is of course familiar terrain for many writers, and happens in many countries. But compare the amount of thinking jobs in Australia, and the diversity of the kinds of jobs, to ideas jobs in a country like the US, and you start to see that the stagnation of ideas in Australia really stems from a lack of value of ideas in the first place.

Very soon, Australia will be a Twentieth Century economy when the world has moved far beyond this. We are a naturally resource rich country, but these are finite resources and we cannot rely soley on this as the basis for our economy. Again, many people have written about the ‘two-speed’ economy which is currently occurring in Australia, with much more authority than I. But going forward, we are in the position to be leaders in technology and services – this requires investment in ideas, both research and development, as well as the education system that allows people to drive innovation. Similarly to science and technology, social sciences are suffocating under a lack of funding and support – some of our most prominent challenges will be attempted to be addressed via social policy (homelessness, inclusion, migration and integration, refugees, drug use and abuse, the list goes on) however we currently place no value on new and innovative ideas and research in the sector. How will Australia meet these challenges when we do not have the intellectual capacity to construct the policy to facilitate the change necessary to do this?